Scientists discover how to prompt conversion of pancreas cells into insulin-producing beta cells

As mentioned in the Los Angeles Times Booster Shot blog, the Los Angeles Times (8/8, Kaplan) ran an article detailing the “race…to find a way to cure type 1 diabetes by regenerating the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are lost in the disease.” A strategy that remains popular in scientific circles involves trying to “get embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells — which can theoretically become any type of human cell — to grow into these so-called beta cells.” In 2008, however, Harvard researchers “took a huge shortcut and transformed normal pancreas cells into the coveted beta cells by activating a trio of dormant genes.” This year, a paper published Aug. 7 in Cell reveals that a team comprised of American and German scientists has demonstrated that “pancreatic cells in diabetic mice could be reprogrammed into beta cells by turning on just one gene, called Pax4.”

“While this approach was effective in mice,” HealthDay (8/7, Preidt) noted that “much more research has to be done before it can be determined whether it would work in humans. One focus of further investigation is determining whether the alpha to beta cell conversion can be kept under control.” Co-author Ahmed Mansouri, of Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, said, “Too many beta cells isn’t good either.” So, “we’ll need a strategy to trigger Pax4 and, at a certain point, also stop it.”


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